The Nature Of God

Posted: 25.01.2012
Updated on: 26.01.2012

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Herbert Warren asks What is the status and meaning of God in Jainism? The answers demonstrate that God is neither a creator, nor a ruler or judge. God is potential.

Those who believe in a creator sometimes look upon Jainism as an atheistic religion, but this is far from the truth. Jainism does not deny the existence of 'God' (Siddha, Paramatman). God is described in Jain scriptures, but there is a difference between the description of God as given in these books and the description given in the religious books of other faiths. The key difference is that while God is described in the books of some other faiths as being a creator and ruler. God is not so described in the Jain books. God, according to the Jain description is an all-knowing and perfectly happy soul with infinite capacities for activity: a pure and perfect soul without any material body, a being that cannot perish or become degenerate.

Disbelieving in the existence of a thing is not the same as not attributing to that thing some particular quality. In believing in the existence of soul in a pure and perfect state Jainism cannot be classed with those who do not believe in the existence of soul different from matter [materialists]. Pure soul and God' are in reality one and the same thing, and the final goal of any particular soul is to become pure and perfect; in other words, to become a God with all the attributes of divinity which, in the Jain faith, do not include creating and ruling. Atheists, properly speaking, are those who deny the existence of soul and maintain that there is no such thing as a soul distinct from matter. They assert that what people call 'soul' is nothing but an outcome of a particular combination of atoms of matter, and that when that particular combination is impaired, the soul becomes extinct.

According to Jainism every soul [Jiva] has existed from eternity, and from eternity souls have ever been emerging from the ordinary embodied worldly condition, and will continue for all time to do so; but they never come down from this condition of Godhead to the condition of souls in the ordinary embodies states. From all eternity the ordinary soul has been indulging in false attachment and aversion to other things. Ignorant of its own nature, and by reason of this indulgence it is never at ease. Upon the abandonment of this attachment and aversion the soul becomes calm and tranquil, and when completely free from the influence of these unnatural activities, the soul lives its natural life and becomes all-knowing, permanently happy, and immortal. In short, it becomes a 'God'. Thus Jainism does not deny the existence of God, but it does deny that in Godhead there is the quality of creating and ruling other things and beings by punishment and reward.

It is admitted that ordinary living beings suffer pain and misery, and that salvation from these pains and miseries can be obtained by obeying the precepts of 'God' as given to the world [that is, through his rulership]. But creating souls and bringing them into the pains and miseries of the world, and then afterwards giving them precepts by acting upon which they can release themselves from these pains and miseries, is not an act of wisdom. For an omniscient and almighty being, who should put a thing into an unsatisfactory condition and then give it rules for its betterment, could not be called wise and benevolent. An omniscient being has no need of testing anybody or anything to see what it will do; and if it be said that 'God' put souls into this world to see which of them would obtain salvation and which would not, then the omniscient quality of the Deity is destroyed.

One great argument put forward in support of the belief that there must be a creator and ruler of the universe, is the fact of system and order in the processes of nature, and also the fact of beauty, it being maintained that these are the evidence of intelligence. However, it is not correct to say that there are only beauty and order in the world, for there are also disorder and ugliness. If it be said that storms, earthquakes and diseases are sent by God' for some beneficial object that he has in view, then obviously this view is taken at the expense of either the quality of benevolence or the quality of omnipotence, for if God were both benevolent and omnipotent, such injury and inconvenience would not be allowed to exist.

According to Jainism. the world is the effect of both intelligent and non-intelligent causes [dravyas]. The intelligent cause is of only one kind, while the non-intelligent causes are of five kinds. The nature of the intelligent cause is to know. The five   non-intelligent   causes are matter-energy\pudgal\, space [akash], time [kaal\, and two things which act respectively as the cause of means by which resting things rest and moving things move [adharma and dharma].

The next consideration is with regard to the belief in a creator contributing to the virtuous conduct of man and to his salvation. To worship a creator does not necessarily contribute to virtuous conduct nor lead to salvation, the final goal of life {Moksha). There are five salient principles of virtuous conduct which are recognized by most religions. They are, not to kill or hurt any living being, that is to say. to live and let live; not to tell falsehoods, that is to say, to be truthful; not to steal, but to be honest; not to commit adultery, but to control the sex passion; and, finally, detachment from worldly objects and sensual pleasures. Now, the belief in a God who is regarded as creator leads men to think that God has created all things for man's use and so he indulges in the free use of such things as meat and wine. Such men do not act much upon the first, fourth, and fifth of the above principles, and the violation of these often leads to the violation of the remaining two, truthfulness and honesty. Further, it is agreed by most religions that for the attainment of salvation it is necessary to control the passions and desires, and to sever one's worldly connections. People who believe God to be a creator argue that, as God has given them these passions and desires, why should man try to suppress them, and having been sent into the world, why should man try to sever his connection with it or live an unworldly life? So that, it is obvious that the worship of God as creator does not necessarily lead to a virtuous life or to salvation. Thus we have an additional reason why Jains do not attribute to Deity the quality of being creator, but regard God as a pure and perfect being, omniscient, happy, all-powerful and eternal, who neither creates other things or beings, nor rewards, nor punishes.

Again it might be asked by some, if God is not our creator, if he does not reward or punish us. if he renders no service to mankind nor has anything to do with man's affairs, what then can be the use of worshipping Deity? The answer to this is that by worshipping Deity as one worships heroes, by meditating upon their attributes, the same attributes tend to become manifest in us. This is why Jains go to the temples and worship images of 'Hrthankaras. It is a rule that man's thoughts take the tinge of the things towards which his thoughts are directed. By thinking of the attributes of Deity, man's condition is improved and his spiritual nature is developed. A worshipper ultimately reaches the stage where he begins to realize that the attributes of Deity are also his attributes, attributes latent in man, but that, owing to worldly desires and aversions, these divine qualities are obscured in man. So that while external Deity neither gives anything to anybody nor takes anything away from anybody, still the worship of Deity is a means whereby one's own spiritual nature can be developed, and it is therefore most beneficial to worship Deity in this sense. So we have seen that although Jainism does not regard Deity as creator and ruler of the universe, nevertheless Jainism acknowledges Deity and advocates worship. It has been shown that God cannot be regarded as creator without also being regarded as unwise or weak; that the fact of there being system and order in the universe is not inconsistent with the Jain idea of Deity; and that the belief in Deity as our creator is not only unnecessary for a virtuous and divine life, but that it positively feeds some of the baser passions, such as meat-eating and wine-drinking, and lust, on the ground that the creator sent these things for the use of his creatures. Thus in defining Deity. Jainism does not include among the attributes the quality of being creator and ruler of the world. £^

 


Around the turn of the century, Herbert Warren was a young man in England whose questioning of his Anglican faith led him to study under the great Jain scholar and barrister Virchand R. Gandhi.

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Jain Spirit
Issue 04 - 2000
page 56